Bad Timing: American Students Visit Surabaya on Religious Pluralism Tour

Beth Shalom in Surabaya, before it was demolished. (JG Photo/Christyandi Tri Syandi)

Beth Shalom in Surabaya, before it was demolished. (JG Photo/Christyandi Tri Syandi)

It was perhaps the worst possible time for officials in Surabaya to host students from two US universities hoping to learn about pluralism and democracy.

Hours after the six students from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan arrived on Friday evening, local media reported that one of Indonesia’s last remaining vestiges of its Jewish community had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Beth Shalom in Surabaya, Java’s only synagogue, was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners since 2009.

“I’m afraid there’s no right time to come to Indonesia to learn about pluralism because you can find bad examples of intolerant acts almost every day here,” Hendardi, the executive director of Setara Institute, a nongovernmental organization promoting tolerance and pluralism, said on Sunday.

Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday that the synagogue had been destroyed, and it was uncertain when it was demolished and who did it.

“In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened.”

Freddy reported the case to the Surabaya City Council and prompted the commission to summon the Surabaya Tourism Agency, which was responsible for the heritage building,” Freddy said.

“It was designated as a heritage site by the agency on April 16, 2009. It should have been protected.”

Indonesia’s last surviving synagogue is located in Manado, North Sulawesi.

A small, Dutch-style building located on a 2,000-square-meter plot of land in the middle of Surabaya’s business district, Beth Shalom looked like an ordinary house in the neighborhood. The only features that distinguished it as a synagogue were its mezuzah (Torah scrolls fastened to an entrance way) and the two Star of David carvings on its door.

“There were many artifacts in the building that can’t be found anywhere else,” Freddy said.

Sachiroel Alim, a City Council deputy speaker, told the Globe on Saturday that the council summoned the Surabaya Tourism Agency at the end of May and gave them seven days to officially report the case to the police because the demolition was in direct violation of the Law on Cultural Heritage.

In January 2009, Muslim demonstrators sealed off Beth Shalom and burned an Israeli flag to protest the country’s attacks on the Gaza Strip at the time.

Soemarsono, the head of the National Unity and Society Protection Agency of Surabaya, claimed that the synagogue was an illegal structure because it did not possess proper building permits.

“How can foreign students learn about living in harmony if the mind-set of officials and some people continue to be like this, while the government allows these groups to take the law into their own hands?” Hendardi said.

However, lecturers at Airlangga University in Surabaya said the US students still learned one or two things about pluralism from the city.

“They learned about how the residents form a pluralist and democratic community,” said Diah Ariani Arimbi, dean of the university’s School of Literature.

The students, in the country under the US-Indonesia Partnership Program for Study Abroad Capacity (USIPP), have been in East Java since Tuesday, and Surabaya was their last destination. They visited several Islamic boarding schools, mosques and churches while they were in the province.

  • stewy

    The headline should read “Good Timing: American Students Visit Surabaya on Religious Pluralism Tour” This was a world heritage listed building until some Islamic knuckle heads destroyed it. I really hope these students go home and tell it all just how it is..
    Religious Pluralism?? yeah right..who are u kidding..

  • antifreeze

    “I’m afraid there’s no right time to come to Indonesia to learn about
    pluralism because you can find bad examples of intolerant acts almost
    every day here,” Hendardi, the executive director of Setara Institute, a
    nongovernmental organization promoting tolerance and pluralism, said on
    Sunday.
    How true. But whatever were these students thinking in the first place!!!?

  • Valkyrie1604

    Money is their God.

  • devine

    Not bad but GOOD timing; so the news spreads to the world…

  • Troublemaker

    Well… certainly those students learned something about the current state of Indonesia.

  • Roland

    @H. Tobing – I would be curious – what is your personal stance to it? Are you supporting or are you rather opposing such a rising intolerance which sadly is very close connected with the rise of radical (or fundamental) Islam in the region?

    Interesting though is (looking at your map) that (with the exception of India which I assume has its own share of issues with its caste system) generally all countries in darker shades of red are indeed Muslim majority countries or have a strong representation of Islam within its population…

    • H. Tobing

      I feel very sad about what is going on as described above in the article, it is not the values this country was born on nor the values I was raised to live by. With that said, it does seem there are factions in this country at work to do make this a predominately Islamic nation. Neither of us agree with what is happening in this country in this respect but what are we to do when these radical groups show up in great numbers to confront people such as you and I and are willing to maim and kill in the name of islam?

      Personally if this is what these people want, give it too them. Give them Sharia law and all that comes with it. See how they feel in living in this type of society and let them decide if this is the way they want to live without certain freedoms. Let them watch as their family members get laid off from their jobs in certain industries, see what they say when they cannot put food on the table due to the restrictions placed on them by the radicalism brought on by Sharia law, Let them see what life will be like and how Indonesia will suffer when most outsiders will avoid the country at all costs. Give these radicals what they want and see how htey like life. I am just tired of the conflict that continues with no end in sight due to no one in any political party is willing to stand up to these little radicals and tell them to either settle down and fly right or suffer the consequences.

  • H. Tobing

    Dirk just because Indonesians smile to your face does not mean they like you living beside them, the same goes for the Chinese as well.

  • MadWorld

    There will be NO Good Timing to pluralism visitation to Indonesia as long as we have these, MUI, FPI,MPU, HTI, FUI, Kisdi, Garis, DDII,JAT, do I forget to mention other radicals.

  • Equus

    He’s to busy (carefully) making decision that should’ve been decided long ago.

    He is (probably) a good statesman, but certainly not a good leader, in this case, the leader of religious tolerance

    • MadWorld

      he is thinking how to become a good actor, just acting.

  • Dirk

    “Whoosh” is the sound of a meaning flying over your head, an idiom even non-native English speakers know. “Money is the god” of the “orde baru baru” elite, FPI protesters on sale for a 20rb nasi bungkus, yourself, etc. Wake up!

    • H. Tobing

      Yes we all know what you were implying that you gave me a “haircut” but all I ask for is an explanation to Valkyrie’s statement, it would seem that the main PAP opposition now wants to stop discussing the matter, I wonder why? By the way do you have a KITAS, a tax number (required of all expatriates since the year 2000 and do you file your taxes each year with the Indonesian tax department? Or are you on here to make fun of Indonesians and discredit the Indonesian govt. and it’s citizens for your pleasure while just taking advantage of your stay in your host country?

  • H. Tobing

    I only ask you the same question you asked me, Where is your national pride? You seem to place yourself higher than me, id this why you talk down to me? As a Singaporean citizen do you feel you are better than the average Indonesian?

    I ask you again:

    You have stated you are a Singaporean, you have also stated you do not like PAP the leading political party that runs Singapore. I believe this is the answer you were waiting for:

    So why do you not speak up against PAP? Have you ever gone down to Speakers corner in Singapore and stood and made statements against PAP and the way they run your government and more importantly your country for the future of your children? Have you even voted against PAP or talked to your neighbors against PAP about supporting an opposition
    party member to represent your district in Singapore? If you are already represented by an opposition member in your district then have you ever gone out and campaigned against the PAP nominee for Singaporean President? Have you even thought to give up your job and run against the PAP? If you answer NO, to any of these then you have no position to
    talk down to me in any position that I take here.

    Where is your pride in your nation Valkyrie?

  • TalkingEid

    I sense a government mouthpiece troll has appeared among us.

  • MadWorld

    Rightly so, the so called Arabisition.